Chilly thrills, a rat romp and dragon races by various authors – children’s book reviews –
Age 8 plus:
Fireborn: Phoenix and the Frost Palace
Aisling Fowler and Sophie Medvedeva
Fantasy adventures don’t come better than this chilling and thrilling series set in a frozen world which transports young readers to the headiest heights of imaginative storytelling.
Phoenix and the Frost Palace is the second fabulous Fireborn book from Surrey-born but now Los Angeles-based Aisling Fowler, an exciting new author who has set critics’ tongues wagging and youngsters gasping with delight as her epic adventures play out in the snowy northern forests of a prehistoric world, and come gorgeously illustrated by Sophie Medvedeva.
By turns breathtaking, funny and heart wrenchingly sad, these stories star a girl called Twelve who has spoken the Pledge and become a Huntling. And now she is training in the art of fighting monsters and has chosen a new name to reflect her elemental power... Phoenix.
Three months after the destruction of the Hunting Lodge, a witch arrives from the frost palace of Icegaard, desperate for Phoenix’s help. Icegaard is in grave danger from an evil force called the Shadowseam and, if the witch-palace falls, all the clans of Ember will fall with it. Travelling north, Phoenix and her friends, Five, Six and Seven, must battle frightening new monsters and find a way to defeat the Shadowseam. But as Phoenix learns to control her new power, the faceless Croke begins to haunt her dreams. Phoenix will have to fight with everything she’s got to save Ember from mortal danger. But the price of survival may be more than she can pay.
Fowler’s dazzling new adventure has all the perfect ingredients for fantasy fans... stunning world-building, exhilarating action sequences, magical moments, terrifying monsters, warm friendships and a cast of memorable characters both good and bad.
But this is also a story that is not afraid to tackle darker topics like envy, betrayal and grief, and with a compulsive plot that continues apace from almost the very moment that the first book, Fireborn, ended, this is an addictive series that no thrill seeker will want to miss.
(HarperCollins Children’s Books, hardback, £12.99)
Age 9 plus:
Gill Lewis and Pippa Curnick
Family comes first in a glorious, heart-melting adventure with all the heady hallmarks of a modern classic from much-loved, award-winning author Gill Lewis.
Moonflight is a magical reading experience as Lewis immerses young readers in a mesmerising world of rats... good and bad rats who rule the streets and skies, and a timid young ratling called Tilbury Twitch-Whiskers who is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
And what an epic, exhilarating story it is, packed with action, drama and emotion, liberally wrapped in Lewis’s warmth and wisdom, and all brought to life by Pippa Curnick’s sumptuous and atmospheric black and white illustrations.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that the seventh-born rat of the seventh-born litter is always a rat in want of an adventure. Tilbury Twitch-Whiskers is no exception. He just doesn’t know it yet.’ Tilbury lives with his family in the Dockland area of London and even though he was born small and weak, and is terrified of the world outside his family home in the Chandlery, he is destined to do great things. The curse of a legendary diamond hangs heavily over the Dockland Rats and when his eldest siblings leave home, it becomes clear only Tilbury can break the curse and save ratkind from Disaster. And so Tilbury finds himself catapulted into an adventure which involves journeying across the sea to the realm of the dreaded White Death. His mission is to return the priceless diamond to its rightful owners. Along the way, he will find huge cats and unfamiliar rats ruling the roost, squabble with his gutsy sister Nimble-Quick, and learn shocking hidden secrets. A truly intrepid hero has been born!
Moonflight is a thrilling, high-flying story as Lewis’s soaring imaginative powers create a stunning cast of rats set in a contemporary world but with all the nostalgic tropes and vibes of classics through the ages.
Young readers will love watching Tilbury grow in mental stature as he faces up to his fears and discovers the value of family, the importance of telling your own story and understanding where life’s real treasures are to be found.
A sparkling and inventive adventure that promises to be one of 2023’s standout middle grade novels.
(David Fickling Books, paperback, £7.99)
Age 8 plus:
Peter Bunzl and Lia Visirin
The super-powered brain of award-winning author Peter Bunzl reaches dizzy new heights of imagination and invention for a thrilling and magical real history-inspired adventure courtesy of specialist publisher Barrington Stoke.
Set amidst the competitive and innovative 1910 Manchester-London air race, packed with suspense, fun-filled fantasy, a daring cast of characters and a magnificent dragon, this sky-high adventure is a thrill ride from the starting gun right through to the finish line.
Twins Kitty and Harris Hawk have grown up at the airfield where their father works as an engineer. Kitty dreams of taking to the skies and competing in the world’s first long-distance air race. But despite her obsession with the idea of becoming an aeronaut, her father thinks children should stay firmly on the ground. When the twins discover a strange and unusually large egg from which a dragon hatches, they watch it grow rapidly into a magnificent and powerful creature that learns to fly with Kitty riding on her back. And little do they imagine that this is the first step on a journey that will see them taking to the skies and competing in that first long-distance air race. Can they win the huge prize that’s at stake, and will their daring adventure lead their father to change his mind about Kitty’s future?
Bunzl started his career as an animator and film-maker, working on everything from commercials to BAFTA‑winning children’s TV programmes, and Dragonracers is full of all the visual drama and rich scene-setting which have brought him such success in his career as a children’s author.
Harnessing fascinating real history around the early days of flight with a brilliant brand of soaraway fantasy, and opening an intriguing window into life over one hundred years ago, Bunzl’s magical tale is brought to life by the stunning illustrations of artist Lia Visirin, and is published in Barrington Stoke’s trademark dyslexia-friendly format.
Another brilliant flight of fancy from a master storyteller!
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)
Age 8 plus:
The Curio Collectors
Eloise Williams and Anna Shepeta
Climb aboard a travelling caravan and share a thrilling adventure with two intrepid youngsters caught up in a perilous mystery! Award-winning Welsh children’s writer Eloise Williams sets hearts pounding with a gripping historical adventure starring a cast of intriguing characters and a plotline brimming with twists and turns. In 1896, Lily and Tom are wanderers, travelling the county with their adopted mother Ma Hawker, and enthralling crowds with their amazing collection of curios. Always on the look-out for new wonders, Lily is tricked into buying a worthless bag of rubbish. But hidden inside is a special piece of scrimshaw... a large, engraved clam shell. A young maid called Flora Meriweather is desperate to buy the scrimshaw, hoping it can help her solve a mystery surrounding her late mother. But someone else also wants to get his hands on the scrimshaw and ensure that secrets stay hidden in the past. Can the Curio Collectors help the truth come to light before time runs out? Williams is a born storyteller, creating characters who linger in the memory and painting an immersive world full of mystery, excitement and suspense. With eye-catching and atmospheric illustrations by Anna Shepeta to bring Lily and Tim’s fast-paced adventure to life, and published in Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia-friendly format, this is a magical book for all young readers.
(Barrington Stoke, paperback, £7.99)
Age 7 plus:
Star author (and now illustrator!) Jenny McLachlan is back with a magical new series and it’s definitely not to be sniffed at! Giggles galore are guaranteed as youngsters get up close and personal with Stink, the worst fairy ever... and the writer of the funniest diary-style adventure on the human side of fairyland. We all know fairies, they’re sweet and sparkly and lovely. Right? Wrong! Meet Stink, she’s the rudest, naughtiest fairy there’s ever been. Instead of sparkles, Stink makes mess. Instead of being kind, Stink plays pranks. She also eats woodlice and rides on rats. From the moment Stink flies out of the fairy door and attaches herself to his hair, Danny Todd knows that Stink is trouble. She needs his help to do a good deed and win her silver wings... and Danny will do anything to get Stink to go back to fairyland because if he doesn’t help her earn some fairy nuggets she says she will stay with him forever. But can Stink ever be good? Expect multiple multi-coloured foxes, nuisance gnomes and loads of troll poo as Stink leaves a trail of magical mayhem and side-splitting laughter in her wake. With McLachlan’s gallery of hilarious illustrations putting extra oomph into her wacky and wonderful adventure, this is heaven-scent reading for young mischief-makers!
(Farshore, paperback, £7.99)
Age 5 plus:
Tales of Wonder
Sandra Lawrence, Jane Newland and Emma Trithart
Celebrate the magic of our world with this treasure trove of exciting traditions and festivals! Tales of Wonder is written by Sandra Lawrence who loves collecting stories from all over the world and finding out how different countries celebrate big events. Learn all about the festivals and folk tales which shape cultures around the world and revel in the beautiful, perfectly matched, vibrant illustrations of Jane Newland and Emma Trithart. Find out where lost loved ones are remembered with paper lanterns and which culture tells the story of Rama and Sita, and discover the origins of Diwali and which US state builds massive sandcastles. Meet powerful gods and bold, brave heroes, and enjoy cultural highlights both ancient and modern, from the heavens down to every corner of the Earth. This fascinating book celebrates all that makes the world special... how we all have similarities and differences and how, despite our various cultures and beliefs, we are united by storytelling and celebrations. With its colourful array of rich and unique festivals and myths, which are central to many religions, nations and cultures, and pages of stunning artwork, Tales of Wonder is a glorious celebration of communities coming together.
(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £8.99)
Age 4 plus:
SuperQuesters: The Case of the Missing Memory
Dr Thomas Bernard, Lisa Moss and Amy Willcox
Discover your inner superhero in this unique interactive story, part of a brilliantly brainy series which aims to fire up imaginations and inspire scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technology experts of the future!
The Case of the Missing Memory is the second book in the SuperQuesters series from husband and wife team and STEM experts, Thomas Bernard and Lisa Moss, whose mission is to inspire and equip a new generation to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education and careers, reduce the skills shortage and close the ethnic diversity and gender gap in STEM studies.
A young fiction adventure series with a fun educational twist, SuperQuesters blends exciting stories with hands-on activities, expertly designed to develop skills in creative new ways, and includes over 100 reusable stickers in each book.
The stars are Lilli and her best friends Leo and Bea, three endlessly curious children with big imaginations. When they unite to solve a challenging science problem, they turn into superheroes Lillicorn, Leo Zoom and Bea Bumble and journey to a world full of magic, adventure and quests. And they want readers to join in the mission and the fun.
Combining brilliant storytelling with interactive hands-on learning, the book’s stickers feature magical charm rewards and there is also a reward chart to mark progress and celebrate success, and a glossary and answer page.
Skills covered include problem solving, coding, sequencing and algorithms and the book is carefully designed with cross-curricular learning opportunities in mind, linking with computing, maths and science in the national curriculum.
To support grown-ups, spark children’s curiosity and enhance the adventure, there is also a ‘how to use this book’ guide, glossary and answer page, plus free additional hands-on activities and further learning resources to download at: www.questfriendz.com.
And it’s all brought to vivid life through the bright and colourful illustrations of Amy Willcox... so if you’re a superhero enthusiast and love learning through play then this is the perfect way to Read, Quest and Learn!
(QuestFriendz, paperback, £7.99)
Age 3 plus:
My Mummy is a Witch
Helena Garcia and Jess Rose
What better time to celebrate the close bond between a mother and her daughter than on Mother’s Day? But what if your mummy isn’t just a mummy but a witch as well? This wonderfully witchy, rhyming story – written with love by Great British Bake Off star and now debut author Helena Garcia and gorgeously illustrated by Jess Rose – is a cauldron of utterly charming ingredients, and told through the eyes of an enchanting little witchling. This is a book brimming with precious moments, a sprinkling of magic and the creation of treasured memories. From dandelion ice-scream to pumpkin perfume and cauldron baths, and best of all a mummy who can wake up the sun and make the stars shine, Garcia and Rose’s exquisite book radiates affection, care and kindness from every page. With maternal warmth and wisdom beating at its heart, My Mummy is a Witch is sure to cast a spell over mums and children everywhere!
(Owlet Press, hardback, £12.99)
Age 3 plus:
When I’m Gone
Marguerite McLaren and Hayley Wells
When a parent dies, children grieve just as much as adults but show it in different ways and they rely on adults to provide them with the support they need. With a limited ability to put feelings and thoughts into words, they often show their feelings through their behaviour. And while experts agree there is no magic formula to help each unique child to cope, giving them a channel to grieve, celebrate and learn how to live and love life when a parent is gone is an important step. When I’m Gone – a sensitively written and deeply moving picture book – has been specially created by Ladybird Books, with expert advice from the charity Child Bereavement UK, and is an ideal starting point for helping grieving children. Beautifully written by Marguerite McLaren and exquisitely illustrated by Hayley Wells, children are helped to understand that when someone you love has died, there will be sad days, confused days and angry days but also happy days and fun days. Nobody lives forever ... and some wish they could have stayed for longer, and even though your parent is gone, you can love them for ever and ever. Full of warmth and wisdom, this exceptional book has the power to make you smile and break your heart at the same time.
(Ladybird, paperback, £7.99)
Age 3 plus:
Amazing Me, Amazing You
Christine McGuinness and Hannah Jayne Lewin
Explore the world from a different angle with a joyful and inclusive picture book from author, model and autism ambassador, Christine McGuinness, who was recently diagnosed with autism, alongside her three children, and hasn’t let that diagnosis stop her from living her best life. McGuinness is passionate about celebrating uniqueness and Amazing Me, Amazing You delivers powerful messages of kindness and friendship for all children. Meet some special children who might not like gritty sand or scratchy labels, busy places or messy tables, but with a quiet walk, a gentle smile, and some time alone for a little while, can be amazingly ‘me’... just like you! Sensitively and vibrantly illustrated by Hannah Jayne Lewin, who believes pictures can evoke an emotional response and might make someone feel happy, sad, thankful, curious or even brave, McGuinness’s heartfelt story shows just how important it is to embrace diversity and inclusivity. She also highlights just how much it means to accept one another just as we are, with all the uniqueness that makes us special. With its resonant messages for parents and carers to help them talk to their children about neurodiversity, this delightful picture book is the perfect way to introduce the subject to young readers and emphasise the importance of empathy and kindness.
(Scholastic, paperback, £7.99)
Age 2 plus:
This is Me!
George Webster and Tim Budgen
Prepare to have your heartstrings tugged and your heart lifted with a fun and joyful picture book from CBeebies star George Webster and bestselling illustrator Tim Budgen! Webster is an actor, BAFTA-winning presenter and ambassador for Mencap who was catapulted into the public eye when he spoke about Down’s syndrome in his myth-busting video for BBC Bitesize, and was later asked to be a presenter on CBeebies. In This is Me! he teams up with outstanding illustrator Budgen for a playful rhyming story to show children that not only are they amazing, but their friends, family and even people they haven’t yet met are amazing too. Meet George and his friends... this is me. I am George. My eyes are sparkly, just like my mum. Like my dad, I’m determined and brave, and like my sister, I’m full of fun! This is Me celebrates our differences and why they make us special, and is perfect for every child and every family. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt and positive story, with colourful and engaging illustrations that are guaranteed to make you smile, and guaranteed to bring out the glow in everyone. So, get ready to read all about George, a little boy with the biggest heart, and imagine how boring the world would be if everyone had the same name!
(Scholastic, paperback, £7.99)
Age six months plus:
Babies Laugh at Peekaboo
Dr Caspar Addyman and Ania Simeone
Perfectly designed to make your baby laugh! What could be better than a baby board book that brings peekaboo – the scientifically proven funniest baby game – to life with ingenious grab-and-pull mechanisms and a mirror. Babies Laugh at Peekaboo has been scientifically developed to help babies and parents/carers share magic bonding moments through reading and laughter. Written by Dr Caspar Addyman, a leading expert in what makes babies laugh, this adorable book brings a game of peekaboo to life with its easy-to-grab, sturdy pages and a shiny mirror. Dr Addyman’s research showed that playing peekaboo is the best way to make a baby laugh... and this book is sure to get them giggling! Tiny tots will love opening the pages to reveal smiling, giggling and laughing baby faces, all beautifully illustrated by Ania Simeone and the mirror at the back of the book is perfect for entertaining babies at tummy time. Bold, beautiful and the perfect gift to encourage emotional, sensory and motor development in babies’ early years.
(Campbell Books, board book, £6.99)